History Behind the Curtains

Book Review ~ The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry Available for less than $10.00

LincolnHistory. The record of human experience recorded by imperfect humans. Sometimes reinterpreted for reasons great and small, pure and not so pure. This time of year reminds me of such things. We as humans love our legends. They are created, passed on, embellished, and polished until the root of the event is lost in the mists of time. All meaning of the original struggle is erased. As an amateur anthropologist, this process is understood and has its own tale to tell. As an amateur historian, it is often a travesty. I believe that we cannot draw meaningful lessons from history unless we are brave enough to explore the real events, motivations and results to the best of our ability. Steve Berry is an author of fiction that combines history and action to bring out possibilities in historical legends. The Lincoln Myth, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. It is also very apropos of current events.

I have quietly argued for years that the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. Yes. I’m serious. It was not. It was fought due to conflicting interpretations of a concept that was paramount in the formation of our country, state’s rights. In the story written by Berry those rights centered on one very specific issue, the right to secession.

Secession is a hot topic just now. I’m afraid the reasons that most people express for such a move seem rather callow to me. I honestly see no meat in many of the shoutings and rantings present in social media and the media in general. Mostly this is the case because everyone is talking over everyone’s head and few take the time to research the facts before they jump on the favored bandwagon. In addition, few proponents of either side of the issue take the time to analyze the repercussions, the consequences of such an undertaking. It’s exhausting. Berry, in today’s climate, was a breath of fresh air.

The story begins with a scene dated September 10, 1861. The White House visit of General John Fremont’s wife, Jesse, is historical. What occurred can only be surmised. Berry begins with this point and fast forwards to the current day. He articulates rather clearly what the problems of the moment were and are. In 1861, if the Southern states left the union, the North would lose substantial amounts of funding from the port tariffs in place at the time. The raison d’etre of the conflict – the South wanted to run their own ports because they were very busy selling cotton to Britain and Europe and the North could not let them leave or it would go bankrupt. Lincoln himself made very clear that slavery was not an issue. He would free every slave, keep some or none; as long as he could win the war.

Lincoln also made it clear before his presidency that as a lawyer he supported the right of secession. A quote:

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848.

The Revolutionary War was a war of secession: America was not of the mind to overthrow the government of Britain. Why would those who fought that war lock the door for others to leave a union if they so desired?

Interesting, eh? Something else of interest? Lincoln had no power to end slavery. Slavery was enshrined in the Constitution. A president does not have the authority to change the Constitution. Slavery was not abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The Senate passed the bill in 1864, the House on January 31, 1865. The states ratified the amendment by December of 1865. Then, and only then, was slavery legally abolished.

These are the issues that Berry explores in his fast-paced action novel with historical roots. His characters also explore what it would mean for various and sundry parts of the union to go their separate ways.

I can tell you that the legal and political links between the Canadian provinces are far less entangled than those of the states and yet Quebec has been unable to gain the political and public will to break away. It’s not all that easy. There are consequences and not all of them are pretty.

If I have any advice for those I know and care for who are struggling against one aspect or another of our current government? Think carefully. Understand the consequences of your choices and work to strengthen, not destroy, what was once a great country.

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5 Comments

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

5 responses to “History Behind the Curtains

  1. In 1861, if the Southern states left the union, the North would lose substantial amounts of funding from the port tariffs in place at the time. The raison d’etre of the conflict – the South wanted to run their own ports because they were very busy selling cotton to Britain and Europe and the North could not let them leave or it would go bankrupt.

    I haven’t read this book, but if it’s based on this statement, then its premise is fatally flawed. The war started because the Southern slave-holding states illegally seceded from the Union, and Lincoln called up volunteers to put that insurrection down. The reason the Southern slaveholding states tried to secede was to protect slavery from what they (correctly) perceived as threatened by Northern Republicans. Lincoln didn’t make the war about slavery until he realized that he could re-establish the rule of law and the Union unless he also destroyed slavery. But the tariff issue is neither here nor there. Tariffs appear very little in the arguments of slaveholders before the war; they appear after the war in great numbers by Confederate apologists as an excuse for the treason of slaveholders.

    But rest assured: the American Civil War was, at its heart, a struggle over slavery.

    • Thank you for commenting! A friend of mine is fully on board with your interpretation and we had a lengthy chat about it all last night. His position was that the breaking point was when the Southern states could not force an agreement where all new states were automatically slave, or that there would be a balance, one free for one slave. However if the point was to end slavery, period, then the Emancipation Proclamation should have covered the entire country. At that point the north would have lost the support of the border states and they simply could not afford that. The Emancipation Act was a war time effort, in part to cause a hoped for uprising. The fugitive slaves acts were not repealed until 1864 and the 13th amendment (as noted) was not ratified until December of 1865.

      I am certain that slavery was a key and it became a way to focus the proponents of both sides. I sincerely wish that it could have been resolved without the price in blood. But slavery is not a question today (at least not in obvious forms), and yet we are still wrestling with whether or not a state can leave the union if they so desire. This issue is alive and well. For many of the same reasons, and for some new ones, we need to find a way to strengthen the country and arrive at a workable consensus; rather than to tear ourselves into bloody and resentful pieces.

      • Michael Rodgers

        I agree with your plea for strengthening our country and working for consensus. Rest assured, state secession is less likely than the monocle trend. If you’re interested, please check out some of Ta-Nehisi Coates such as “The Civil War Isn’t Tragic” and “Compensation.” Best Regards, Mike

      • Thank you for stopping by, Michael – and I shall.

  2. As the author seems to suggest, we often ascribe noble ends to selfish causes. It is at the heart of much which the disengaged find humerous.

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